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111 x 174 mm
Very Short Introductions



  • This Very Short Introduction stands apart from other Mandela biographies by taking an uncompromising and critical look at his life, and avoiding hagiography
  • Boldly examines the relationship between Mandela the myth, and Mandela the historical figure - looking at the way images, stories, and politics have been combined to create the iconic image of Mandela that we know today
  • Explores Mandela's life story, and explains the historical and political context of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa
  • Looks at the range of his influences from colleagues and friends to literature and poetry, shedding light on the deep-seated and often contradictory motivations of an intensely guarded and private man

As well as being a remarkable statesman and one of the world's longest-detained political prisoners, Nelson Mandela has become an exemplary figure of non-racialism and democracy, a moral giant. Once a man with an unknown face, he became after his 1994 release one of the most internationally recognizable images of our time. 

Set within a biographical frame, this Very Short Introduction explores the reasons why his story is so important to us in the world at large today, and what his achievements signify. It shows how our picture of Mandela is a great deal more complicated than the legend suggests: quality of character is combined with his talents as a performer, his maverick ability to absorb transnational influences, his proximity to outstanding colleagues, his steely survival skills, and his postmodern ease with media image. It shows how many different interconnected stories, histories, values, and symbols combine in the famous name Nelson Mandela.
"An excellent overview of his career...[and] much more than just a "Very Short Introduction"." - Independent.


1: Mandela - Story and symbol
2: Scripting a Life - The early years
3: Growth of a National Icon - Later years
4: Influences and Interactions
5: Sophiatown Sophisticate
6: Masculine Performer
7: Spectres in the Prison Garden
8: Mandela's futures - The ethical legacy
Further Reading


Elleke Boehmer is Professor in World Literature in English at the University of Oxford. She is the author of the widely acclaimed Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (1995), Empire, the National and the Postcolonial (2002), Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation (2005), as well as of three novels set in South Africa. She has edited the British bestseller Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell (2004), Empire Writing (1998), and the pioneering Indian lawyer Cornelia Sorabji's memoirs.

As well as being a remarkable statesman, Nelson Mandela has become a universal symbol of justice, a secular saint. Elleke Boehmer examines not only the great anti-apartheid leader's life, but also the ways in which images and representations have been used to create the Mandela we know today - an internationally recognized icon of freedom.
Nelson Mandela